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Pandemic expert advises window and door industry on measures to mitigate coronavirus risk


In an podcast with Fenestration Conversations host Patrick Flannery, Suzanne Bernier of SB Crisis Consulting warned that window and door fabricators and dealers should be ready for even more announcements from governments establishing yet more measures to combat the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. The podcast was recorded on March 17, the day the Ontario government declared a state of emergency in the province and ordered bar and restaurants to close dining rooms.

Bernier helped develop the Ontario Workplace Safety Insurance Board’s response to the SARS outbreak in 2006 and has since been commissioned by the United Nations to advise them on pandemic strategy. “Now, unfortunately, what I’ve been telling people to plan for and what was going to happen is what we are seeing now at a very escalated scale,” Bernier said.

“People should be planning for a more serious shutdown order to come in the coming days and weeks,” Bernier predicted. “And to be able to communicate to your employees that that may happen.” Bernier said advance notice to employees that they may have to stay home from work is important to keep their attention on the need to protect their families.

Fenestration companies should put internal procedures in place for frequent 20-second hand washing, especially after interacting with customers, Bernier said. And enhanced cleaning measures for the store should be taken on using stronger disinfectants.

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“We will all get some kind of a case internally,” Bernier said. “Or even a rumour of someone who has been in contact with the coronavirus being in your space. We should be thinking about how we are going to deal with that now.” Bernier says areas that are suspected of being exposed to coronavirus should be locked down immediately and cleaned much more thoroughly than normal. If a worker reports sick, Bernier says stores need a plan in place to help them leave without delay.

Bernier calls hand sanitizer a “backup” and warns against using it instead of hand washing.

Communities are in what Bernier calls “mitigation and response” mode as opposed to any sort of attempt at prevention. “We were too late to stop it crossing our borders,” she says. “It’s here, it’s spreading in our communities.” She advises getting ahead of the next phase of the pandemic by planning now for how your company will recover once the movement restrictions are lifted.

“You will be required, depending on your geographic area, to scale down even more,” Bernier warns. “What happens when it is time to scale back up again and you have this backlog of work and orders? We need to be thinking of that ahead of time so we are not stuck in this reactive response mode.”

Chillingly, Bernier says historically there is a secondary spike in infections some days or weeks after the outbreak is initially controlled and people start to relax their vigilance.

Bernier says gatherings of any kind in the workplace should be discouraged, including lunch hours in break rooms. Work stations should be spaced so workers can stay at least six feet away from each other.

Companies should beware of the ripple effect from a pandemic, Bernier says. Many business owners focus on the impact to their direct business. They should also give some thought to the suppliers and supporting infrastructure they rely on and be ready for breakdowns in those services. What if a key software supplier has shut down its offices? What if your sales person is unable to cross the border for a meeting? What if a client’s project specifier comes down with the illness and is unavailable?

Visiting private homes to do work is not advisable, Bernier says, and may soon be ruled out by governments depending on the level of infection in a given area. If work can be delayed, she recommends doing so. If work must be done, the installers should stay out of the inside of the home to the extent possible. Handwashing and distancing become even more important. Bernier also points out that gloves and masks are not effective prevention measures and may even make matters worse by giving people a false sense of security.

When equipment is shared by workers, Bernier says enhanced cleaning procedures are a must. Sharing should be avoided altogether to the extent possible. The coronavirus is capable of surviving on a surface for several hours and could infect the next person using tools and machinery if the last person had it.

“I know people need to have access to these resources and these pieces of equipment,” Bernier says. “But let’s look at creative ways, just for now, to reduce the amount of sharing that goes on. But immediately when a piece of equipment is done being used, before it is passed on to someone else, it needs to be cleaned.”

The full special Fenestration Conversations episode with Bernier will be released in the coming days.

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